Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Great Article in the Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Sun, Page B01, 30-Apr-2008

Housing vigils grow across the province

By Neal Hall

The protests started with a group of neighbours taking a stand about losing their 224-unit Little Mountain social housing complex in Vancouver.

By March of this year, the demonstrations had grown to 15 "stands" on street corners.

Now the stands -- silent vigils to raise awareness of the twin problems of dwindling affordable housing and rising homelessness caused by the city's rocketing real estate prices -- have mushroomed into a movement that is spreading across B.C.

On Saturday, 80 "stands for housing" will be held in dozens of towns and cities across the province, including 40 in Metro Vancouver, 18 on Vancouver Island and 24 in the Interior and the northern region.

A stand consists of a one-hour silent demonstration on a street corner by neighbourhood housing activists on Saturdays, beginning at 1 p.m.

The first stand began last October with angry tenants who were being urged to move from the six-hectare social housing complex at Little Mountain, owned by B.C. Housing, because it was going to be sold and replaced with upscale condominiums.

The tenants began standing in protest each Saturday on the corner of Main and 33rd.

There are only 50 families left in the Little Mountain complex, leaving 170 units sitting empty, said Kia Salomons of Community Advocates for Little Mountain.

"That in itself is a scandal, with thousands of people homeless," she said of the vacant units. "Those homes are completely habitable. It's become a symbol of the problem of affordable housing."

The idea expanded last February as other groups of housing activists took the cause of "homes for all" and began donning identical turquoise-blue scarves and standing with banners on Vancouver street corners every Saturday.

"The big issue is, there isn't enough social housing," said Maggie Geiser, who takes part in a stand in her neighbourhood at Arbutus and King Edward with the Citywide Housing Coalition, one of the organizers. "We usually have a half a dozen to a dozen people on each corner."

Participants hand out flyers demanding politicians work together to reintroduce a national housing program to provide about 2,000 units of affordable rental housing in B.C each year to replace losses caused by redevelopment, speculation and gentrification.

They also want to see provincial welfare rates boosted to meet basic needs. A single person now receives a maximum of $375 a month for rent and $235 for everything else, while the average rent for a bachelor apartment is $735, the housing activists say.

The stands are non-partisan. Some are organized by such church groups as the Social Gospel Coordinating Group from St. James Anglican Church, the St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church Housing and Mental Health Action Group and the Unitarian Church Social Justice Committee, as well as a youth group called Random Acts of Kindness, which does a stand at First and Commercial on Saturdays.

The inspiration behind the stands was the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, whose children were among the thousands who "disappeared" under that country's military dictatorship in the 1970s and early '80s.

The mothers stood each week in a city square in Buenos Aires as a silent demand for justice. Their white scarves became an international symbol of protest.

Why do local stand participants wear turquoise-blue scarves?

"The fabric was on sale," Ann Truong said, laughing.

"We don't have a formal budget," added the University of B.C. student, who is studying social work and takes part in a stand with members of the Carnegie Community Action Project.

Project members recently surveyed Downtown Eastside residential hotels and concluded that 174 single-occupancy rooms have been closed in the last four months, with another 225 in grave danger of being lost.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finding Our Way Home -- The Consultation Comes to an End

Dear Friends,

After visiting 22 BC commnunities, meeting with more than 120 service providers, not-for-profit groups and local governments, and speaking with hundreds of homeless people, our provincial consultation, "Finding Our Way Home", is complete.

I want to take this opportuntity to thank all of those who gave us their time, who reported to us on the siutation in their communities and who taught us so much about the issue of homelessness.

I especially want to pay tribute to all of our neighbours and friends -- homeless people in our province -- who shared their stories, their insights, their dreams for a better life and their thoughtful suggestions with us. It was a privilege to meet each of you, and I want to pledge to you I will continue to raise the issue of homelessness wherever I go, to "make some noise" about the appalling numbers of people in our province who have nowhere to live.

One outcome of "Finding Our Way Home" will be a report which I will release in the coming weeks. It will include draft legislation and recommendations for changes in policy. The source of that legislation and those recommendations is the wisdom and experience that so many of you shared with me over the past months.

Though the consultation is over, this BLOG will continue. We'll add reports, statistics, articles and opinion pieces. We invite you to respond with your own views.

Thanks for your commitment to ending homelessness in BC.

David Chudnovsky

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lower Mainland - Day Four Vancouver

At Lookout Shelter we met a number of people who came to Vancouver because the services they need aren't available in their home communities. Those with mental health issues are drawn to Vancouver for treatment and support, but when they get here there is nowhere for them to live and they end up in emergency shelters.

We also heard that, increasingly, those who are in transitional housing are staying longer than their allotted time, because there is no more independent housing available for them. Similarly, the stays at emergency shelters have been getting longer and longer for the same reason.

We met with many residents of the Downtown Eastside who are very fearful that their community may be disappearing. With increased condo development, the disappearance of SRO hotels and low cost apartments, the character of the neighbourhood is at risk.

Thanks to all of the kind people who took time to meet with us on this, the last day of Finding Our Way Home.

Lower Mainland - Day Four Vancouver


9:00AM - Downtown Eastside Women's Centre
10:00AM - Vancouver Police Department
11:00AM - Lookout Shelter
12:30PM - Carnegie Action Committee
1:30PM - VANDU
United We Can

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lower Mainland - Day Three Burnaby and Vancouver

Our first meeting today was with the RCMP in the Burnaby Douglas area. The Burnaby Task Force on homelessness is fortunate to have the committed and compassionate leadership of Staff Sergeant John Buis. He told us about the support services that have increasingly become available for homeless people because of increasing coordination and especially with the increased participation of the faith community. The Staff Sergeant indicated that homelessness had become more visible and probably has increased.

A number of people at the Southside Church drop-in alerted us to the problem of landlords doing credit checks on prospective tenants. This is completely unfair because homeless people can never be successful on credit checks.

At Broadway Youth Centre we heard about the problems youth (under 19) have in finding homes. Many don't have families to fall back on when they meet inevitable problems. Landlords often discriminate against young tenants. The youth centre tries to deal with this by renting the units themselves and providing ongoing support and assistance to the youth and liaison with the landlord.

At Luma Native Housing Society -- echoing what we heard yesterday at the Front Door in Surrey -- we heard about the need for more barrier free resources. They called for services that follow the client through the range of supported housing that's necessary for success. Most important, they demanded the Provincial Government have a public and explicit Homelessness Program and commitment to end homelessness.

Lower Mainland - Day Three Burnaby and Vancouver


9:30AM - Burnaby RCMP
10:30AM - Southside Church Drop-In Program
1:00PM - Broadway Youth Resource Centre
2:00PM - Raincity Housing
3:00PM - Luma Housing
4:30PM - Wilson Heights United Church Dinner

Lower Mainland - Day Two Surrey

We spent today in BC's second largest city -- Surrey. We began in Whalley, a town centre in North Surrey which has become known for a very high concentration of street level homeless people and a serious and open drug culture.

The Front Room is an emergency shelter and drop in centre which has very low barriers. This means many people who use the emergency shelter are banned from other agencies and service providers because of behaviours which are judged to be unacceptable. We were reminded by Front Room service providers that it is vital to deal with homeless people as they are. If those who stay at the Front Room are going to get off the street, then their culture, life styles and behaviours need to be accepted in the first instance and worked with step by step to achieve change.

Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Centre is a new, well-resourced facility where important work is being done.

At Newton Advocacy Centre we were told of the enormous pressure counsellors work under to find adequate shelter for people when there often isn't any place for them to go. We also heard more about the ongoing supports necessary for homeless people to be successful once they do find a place to live.

Thanks to all of the hard working people we spoke with -- and especially to the homeless people who took time to tell us about their experiences.

Lower Mainland - Day Two Surrey


9:30AM - Front Room
11:00 AM - Options Services to Communities Society
12:00 - Highland House
2:00PM - Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and
Education Society
3:00PM - Newton Advocacy Centre

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lower Mainland - Day One Abbotsford

Today in Abbotsford we saw the reality of a large Lower Mainland municipality outside of Vancouver with a significant homelessness problem.

We shared a bowl of soup at the Salvation Army and visited with staff members. We were especially impressed by four young outreach workers. They are doing their very best to connect with homeless people on the street, to encourage them to access programs and services, and to find at least temporary, emergency shelter. But they all agreed that at the end of the day homeless people need accessible and affordable housing and that's just not available in Abbotsford.

At the Women's Resource Centre we were reminded that support needs to be culturally appropriate. Indo-Canadian women are accustomed to large extended families in a household. Many are more comfortable, therefore, in a basement apartment than in an apartment building.

When we asked about the motivation for the work of the Mennonite Central Committee, we were told that finding accommodation, support and dignity for homeless people was part of the church's commitment to social justice. We agreed with their assessment that while emergency shelters are necessary, they are not a solution because they are not homes.

Lower Mainland - Day One Abbotsford


9:30AM - Cyrus Youth Centre
10:45AM - Abbotsford Food Bank
12:00 Salvation Army
1:00PM - Mennonite Central Committee
2:00PM - Women's Resource Centre
April 28, 11:00AM - Triangle

Monday, April 21, 2008

Does BC need a UN Complaint?

We usually don't publish excerpts from other people's BLOGs, but this article on David Eby's Vancouver 2010 Olympics Newswire is so good we couldn't resist. Please take the time to read the beginning here and then link to the rest of the article.

Premier Gordon Campbell was quoted in the Sun saying that "B.C. doesn't need the United Nations to tell us we have a homelessness problem, I think all of us understand that there is work to be done." Well, although we may all understand there is work to be done, there's not a lot of work getting done by the Premier and his pals. Here are some examples of why the Province needs to be taken to the UN.

(1) They've got a $250m housing endowment sitting in the bank. A budget ago, the B.C. Government set aside $250m for new social housing. Housing advocates rejoiced. The money was enough to build hundreds of new social housing units and put a real dent in Vancouver's homeless population. So what happened with the money? It sits in the bank, gathering interest, and only the interest is being spent. On a burn unit. Which isn't to say that burn units aren't important, but this is housing money. And this despite the fact that savings well beyond the current interest rate the money is receiving would be experienced by the province if they just used the money to house the homeless.


The City of Victoria is one of the most engaged when it comes to beginning to deal with the crisis of homelessness. The Mayor's Task Force on Homelessness and Mental Health has received a lot of publicity. Many service providers arre working hard to provide support to the extremely large group of homeless people in the Victoria region.

We had a good visit with the staff and volunteers at St. Vincent De Paul Society. It was significant that they told us they will be participating in the May 3 Provincial Stand for Housing. Pleae see the post on this BLOG with details on the provincial stand.

Thanks to the many people we met with in Victoria for their time, energy and for their commitment to ending homelessness.



8:45AM - Our Place Society
10:00AM - Umbrella Additions and Mental Health Resource
11:00AM - Cool Aid Society
12:00 - PEERS
1:00PM - Saint Vincent De Paul Society
2:00 PM - Victoria Native Friendship Centre
3:30PM - Mustard Seed
4:45PM - Together Against Poverty
6:00PM - Streetlink

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

2008 GVRD Homelessness Count

On April 8, preliminary results of the Metro Vancouver Homelessness Count were released. They show a dramatic increase since 2005 when the last counts were done. Almost 2,600 people were identified as homeless in the region. Every municipality showed an increase. The organizers of the count stressed that this number is an undercount – that for various reasons many who are homeless were not identified.

The Fraser Valley count will be made public later this month.

Please visit for the full 2008 GVRD Homelessness Count.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The North -- Day Four Terrace

We want to begin with an apology for taking so long to post this report. We try to report on our tour on the same day as our visits, and we hope that readers, especially those from Terrace, can forgive us this time.

We began the day with a visit to the breakfast program at Kermode Friendship Society. On our way in we met two men who had slept in the bush and said they had spent all winter outside in Terrace. Thanks to both of them for taking the time to speak with us at length. Once we got to the breakfast program we visited with volunteers, staff, board members -- and, of course, those who were having breakfast.

A highlight of our time in Terrace was a serious and comprehensive discussion with the Mayor and members of Council. We reminded them that the provincial government has committed to providing capital funding for social housing at a number of sites in Vancouver if the city provides the land. (It should be noted that this capital funding is still only a promise and there are no committed provincial capital funds.) Nevertheless, smaller centres deserve the same support to deal with their homelessness problems. We encouregaed Terrace Council, as we have every council with whom we have met, to approach the Provincial Government to make sure smaller centres are not forgotten.

The North -- Day Four Terrace


8:00 AM - Kermode Friendship Society: Breakfast Kitchen
9:00 AM - Terrace Schizophrenia Society
10:00 AM - Terrace Anti-Poverty Group Society
11:00 AM - Ksan Housing Society
1:00 PM - Mayor of Terrace and Council
2:00 PM - Muks-kum-ol Housing Society
3:00 PM - North West Addictions

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The North Day Three -- Smithers, Hazelton

Today we spent most of the afternoon in what is perhaps the most beautiful setting anywhere. We met with Chief Marjorie McRae of the Gitanmaax Band and Band members in Hazelton. With the snow capped mountains keeping watch over this exquisite valley we had a wide ranging discussion about homelessness, poverty, mental health and social conditions.

We heard about the terrible shortage of affordable housing, about the extremely poor conditions (mice, mould, cold) of many rental apartments, about the lack of stable and supportive housing for people who have succesfully completed treatment for alcohol and drug dependencies, about the large number of youth who are couch surfing and therefore at risk, about a mother with two young children who has absolutely no safe place to live so the band is paying for her to stay in a motel.

One woman courageously told us of her experience couch surfing for the last 15 years. A man explained that he often lets young people stay in his home because they have nowhere else to go and he fears for their safety. He also told us how devestating it is to see elders of the community on the street with nowhere to live.

We also heard from two articulate young women about programs in town that are making a difference -- especially a film course for youth sponsored by the Canadian Film Board which inspired youth by giving them new skills and encouraging their creativity. We watched several of these excellent short movies.

These remarkable people shared with us their challenges and obstacles, but also their hopes and dreams. It was an experience we won't soon forget and we thank them for their graciousness and their hospitality.

We committed to pursue the idea of provincially sponsored transition housing in Hazelton and will take up this issue with their local MLA and the Minister.

The North Day Three -- Smithers, Hazelton


8:00 AM - Meeting with officials at Smithers Town hall
9:00 AM - Schizophrenia Society
10:00 AM - Broadway Place Emergency Shelter
11:00 AM - Northers Society for Domestic Peace
2:00 PM - Meet with Chief Marjorie McRae, Hazelton

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The North -- Day Two Vanderhoof, Burns Lake

When we were in Revelstoke a couple of weeks ago, and during our time in the rest of the Kootenays, we heard from a number of private sector employers about the problems they are having attracting and keeping workers because there is nowhere for the workers to live. We reported on this situation in an earlier post on this blog.

Today in the north we heard about a similar problem, but this time with recruitment and retention of professional workers in the public service and the not for profit sector. At both Nechako Valley Community Services in Vanderhoof and Lake District Community Services in Burns Lake we were told stories about potential employees -- whose salaries are higher than many in these communities -- who couldn't find a place to live.

At Neighbourlink in Vanderhoof we heard from an RCMP officer about homeless people who commit petty crimes so that they can be arrested and have the shelter, safety, warmth and food that a jail cell brings. He said this happens 2 to 3 times a month in Vanderhoof. Neighburlink provides a food bank, community meals, motel vouchers, emergency support for young mothers, support for homeless transients in town, and more -- all without any support from any level of government. All they ask for is some financial support from the provincial government -- in the 90s they got a small subsidy -- and we promised we would pursue this.

So far we have noticed that a large number of the homeless people in this region are young men who couch surf and are very hard to identify so they receive minimal support and services.

The North -- Day Two Vanderhoof, Burns Lake


9:30 AM - Omineca Safe House Society
10:30 AM - Nechako Valley Community Services
11:30 AM - Vanderhoof Neighbourlink
2:00 PM - Lake District Community Services
3:30 PM - Burns Lake Village Hall